- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two social conservatives leaders — in surprise moves yesterday — criticized fellow evangelical and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, while praising another party hopeful, Mitt Romney, a Mormon.

Still, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and American Values President Gary Bauer hope the former Massachusetts governor will passionately express his pro-life views at the Values Voter Summit Oct. 19 and 20 at the Washington Hilton.

Many evangelicals have shunned Mr. Romney, a Mormon who evolved from being pro-choice to pro-life on abortion.

The only evangelical in the top tier of candidates is Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, but he hasn’t won over the conservative leaders.

“I was disappointed that in a recent speech he suggested that we should offer economic incentives to Iran to deter their development of a nuclear bomb and urged more negotiations,” Mr. Bauer said. “I don’t see how you negotiate with a Holocaust denier.”

All nine major Republican candidates are expected to attend the summit briefing, where they will give 20-minute speeches to social conservative activists from across the country.

The leaders defended Mr. Romney’s evolution from pro-choice advocacy to the view that life begins at conception.

“I don’t think he’s flip-flopping,” Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Bauer agreed that Mr. Romney’s change of heart was sincere, even though it “happened to coincide with a primary [election campaign] schedule.”

The conservative leaders hold mixed opinions about other leading Republican candidates.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona alienated much of the Christian right in his 2000 nomination bid with harsh words for evangelical leaders the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Mr. Perkins, however, said Mr. McCain has been improving his image, and cited Mr. McCain’s performance during Tuesday’s debate in Michigan.

Both men agreed that former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee also fared well during the debate on all issues, including those dear to social conservatives.

Rudolph W. Giuliani is the only pro-choice candidate in the Republican field and leads in national polls. Mr. Perkins and Mr. Bauer said the prospect of nominating the former New York mayor — especially if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York wins the Democratic contest — has triggered talk by evangelical and Catholic conservatives of fielding a pro-family third party.

Both men agreed that a third-party traditional-values candidacy would be all but doomed next year, and could siphon enough votes from the Republican nominee to put Mrs. Clinton in the White House.

“A third party would guarantee that for the next four years, Hillary Clinton, with a Democratic Congress, would make life miserable for social, economic and foreign-policy conservatives,” Mr. Bauer said.

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